Recruiting Strategy: Project Professionals and Client Retention

Recruiting Strategy:  Project Professionals and Client Retention 

One of the greatest impacts to a law firm or law department’s success comes from an increased focus on strategic lawyer staffing. According to a national legal survey, 77% of law firms that changed their strategic approach to lawyer staffing reported an increase in profits per equity partner, in the same survey general counsel reported greater agility to meet changing business demands.   

Strategic lawyer staffing is based on an organization’s mission, values and client demand. One of the more successful trends in strategic lawyer staffing is the use of project lawyers. Hiring project lawyers is now commonplace. Many firms and law departments realize if they are not employing project lawyers as part of their strategic hiring policy, they are probably over-staffed.

Here are the most common reasons organizations turn to project lawyers:

  • The workload has increased enough to make your team feel overworked, but not enough to justify hiring another attorney.
  • As corporate counsel, you assigned major litigation to outside counsel and were astounded when you received the first bills for discovery. 
  • You took on a matter that made such extraordinary demands on your time for several months that you felt you were neglecting other matters. 
  • An issue outside your area of expertise arose for a client and neither you nor anyone else on staff had time to explore it adequately.
  • You needed someone to assist you in a second chair role during a complicated trial. 
  • You (or co-worker) want to take parental leave, vacation or even a sabbatical. 
  • Your corporate law department or government agency does not have the budget for another employee, but do have discretionary funds available to hire temporary attorneys to handle overload work. 
  • You have a specific cleanup project, after a merger or a reorganization
  • You have a merger, deal, or contract where industry expertise is needed only until the matter is complete.

The use of temporary staff is a known concept for the legal profession.  Although a known concept, still prevalent are the long outdated myths, namely:

  • Temporary attorneys can’t find permanent jobs and accept temporary jobs as a last resort 
  • Temporary attorneys produce inferior work as compared to permanent attorneys
  • Temporary attorneys pose a threat to permanent staff attorneys
  • Temporary attorneys are not as committed to projects as outside counsel
  • Temporary attorneys don’t do anything to support the bottom line

Of course, successful firms and law departments know that all of these common myths are just that, myths, and all have been proven false.  After all, hiring a temporary lawyer successfully requires the same rigor one would use when hiring a permanent team member.  

Perhaps the myths linger due to the titles used to identify the temporary lawyer.  The title of Temporary or Contract or Project could be viewed as slightly demeaning and could support the mythical inference of lacking expertise, subpar, or not to be taken seriously.  As use of temporary attorneys becomes mainstream, more appropriate titles may be: 

  • Interim (a term commonly used in the C-Suite) 
  • Guest  (as in guest professor, or  guest lecturer) 
  • Adjunct (most lawyers speak highly of their former adjunct professors)  

What would it mean for an experienced lawyer who is choosing the professional career track of a project lawyer to be referred to as a Guest, Interim or Adjunct Lawyer?  Yes, the use of temporary attorneys is known, myths and all, yet the new norm is an individual choosing to work as a project lawyer as their professional career track.  

One reason the trend of using project lawyers is turning into the new norm is the economy.  Although the economy is and has bounced back, organizations are still aware of their bottom line and still want to run lean.  

The Hidden Potential of a Project Attorney 

The use of project attorneys can result in measurable cost savings to an organization.  Cost savings may include:

  • A retaining lawyer can charge the client the regular rates of the organization which are often more than it is paying to a contract lawyer 
  • There is no cost for employee benefits
  • A firm can keep work inside the firm vs. referring it out
  • A law department can handle work inside the department instead of paying outside counsel rates
  • Allows for agility and scalability – only paying for labor/work when it is needed

Also, organizations realize there is a tremendous amount of talent that is available in the career project lawyer realm.  

  • Baby boomers –seasoned professionals who may have retired from their long-time career positions but still want to work, provide value, contribute, and mentor in a more flexible manner.  These folks are experts in their field and expand an organization’s bench strength
  • Parents of young children.  Professionals who have earned their stripes and know what they are doing, but want to lead a more balanced and flexible life 
  • People who are experienced and enjoy travel or other hobbies to which they want to dedicate a significant amount of time
  • New generations (Y, Z) who “work to live” and do not want to work in the traditional “8 to 5” way


Clearly, the use of Project lawyers is a solution that makes sense in today’s economic climate. Talon recommends the following to ensure a successful experience when using project legal professionals:  

1) Hire the right professionals with the right background and training. Be clear on the expertise you need, and the background, training, and experience needed to get the desired work product.  Additionally, hire to match the vision, mission and values of your organization and your team.  

2) Integrate contract attorneys. Just as it’s crucial to orient and integrate all new hires, firms and in-house legal departments will likewise benefit from integration of project professionals.  

3) Have a plan. Determining the expectations of the project, the communication flow, and the report structure will help determine the project parameters.  This will help determine the expertise, the experience and the duration of the project.  

Project Professionals – A Differentiator

In today’s complex employment and economic environment, a permanent hire does not always meet your organization’s or client’s needs.  Firms and corporations need to think not only about how project legal professionals (attorney, paralegal, compliance) can help save them money, but also how they can start making them money.  Offering staffing that meets your organization’s needs is vital to client and talent acquisition and retention.

Effective Interviewing: New Interview Tips

You have made a good first impression with your resume and now have an interview. If you don’t prepare for your interview or arrive late or always cut your interviewer off, you could be cutting yourself out of the race before you even started. 

Effective interviewing merely requires you to prepare and practice. Basic interview tips are readily available, fairly simple to follow and yield strong differentiating results. So there is no reason for you not to be effective in an interview. And yet, you will be amazed at how often even basic interview tips are forgotten or overlooked. Don’t make that mistake. By preparing and practicing, you are setting yourself up to be present, less nervous and ultimately engaged for success. 

Here are the best interview tips, gathered from personal experience, friends/peers and scientific studies that when followed, can produce strong interview results.

1. Research.

If you want to impress prospective employers then be prepared and do a bit of research into the company you’re applying with. Find out what you can about the organization so you can tailor the interview answers you give to suit their needs and expectations. Doing this will also give you a much better idea of whether the company is a good fit for you.

2. Practice.

Answer interview questions out loud in front of a mirror, record yourself answering questions or practice answering questions in front of someone else. Practice gives you the opportunity to clarify and hone your message. It allows you to experience and adjust your non-verbals. It creates comfort when you are in the actual interview so you can be present and in the moment of conversation. 

3. Your Three Uniques.

Be prepared to give three examples that demonstrate both your technical expertise and show your strengths or differentiators. Craft the story to provide the situation, your role and the outcome. Practice saying each answer aloud.

4. Food and Beverage.

Eat protein ahead of time. Avoid sugar and caffeine. Sugar and caffeine alter your body chemicals, affecting your blood sugar, exacerbating nervous jitters and can block access to the thinking part of your brain. Protein allows for a constant, solid energy so you can endure the length of the interview comfortably.

5. Dress Appropriately.

Think carefully about what you wear to interview. It’s safe to assume that in most cases business formal attire will be appropriate but make sure you feel comfortable or you won’t come across well.

6. Arrive on Time.

This should be obvious. Always ensure you’ve worked out directions and anything else you might need to know before you set off for your interview so there’s no danger of showing up late.

7. Paperwork.

Make sure you take any relevant paperwork with you that you may need at an interview, even if you’ve already sent copies with an application. This could include your resume, examples of previous work, writing samples, transcripts and references. Remember, just because you brought a lot of paperwork, doesn’t mean 

you should force them all on the interviewer. Show them only if they are appropriate and relevant to the interview. 

8. Ready your Body and Mind.

Write down why you are so great on a sheet of paper 30 minutes before your interview. Then, practice a power stance and say your strengths out loud so your ear can hear your voice. Standing in a dominant manner, for example with your hands on your hips with your head up, will actually change the hormonal balance in your body and make you genuinely less nervous, more confident and more leadership oriented.

9. Handshake.

Look someone in the eyes and grasp one’s hand in a web-to-web fashion, use a slightly firm grip and three up and down shakes. Done.

10. Pause and Breathe.

This is so critical and often forgotten because you are either nervous or too excited to take a pause or both. During your interview, wait until the interviewer finishes the question before answering and take time to think before you speak. If you give yourself a moment to gather your thoughts you’re much more likely to give a relevant answer than if you panic and blurt out the first thing that comes into your head. Pause for a moment before you answer questions and you’ll be calmer and much more coherent.

11. Show Enthusiasm.

Energy, enthusiasm and interest are important to show. Smile occasionally, make eye contact without staring, and lean slightly forward. Body language matters in an interview. If you often look away, lean back and/or cross your arms, you will look defensive and less interested even if you don’t say so in your words. On the other hand, showing enthusiasm also doesn’t mean you are bouncing off the wall or raising your voice. It’s a balance. It’s about showing you are a professional and very interested in this opportunity without scaring anyone. 

12. Prepare Questions in Advance.

Write down a few pertinent questions to ask at the end of your interview. By asking good questions, it’s your chance to find out what you can’t from your research, show that you are interested and know about the company. Whether you are a veteran at job interviews or new to it all, following these basic interview tips are key to giving yourself an edge over the competition in this competitive job market.

Top Trends for Legal Resumes

Every lawyer needs an updated resume. Why? A resume is your first impression, a chronology of your work history, and your lead into your career advancement. 

A great interview-generating legal resume is all about differentiating yourself from others competing for the same jobs. With constantly changing trends in strategic resume writing, new ways to accomplish this differentiation are always emerging. If you take advantage of the latest trends and keep your resume updated, you are much more likely to stand out, make a positive connection, and stimulate the attention you deserve. 

Here are a few of the latest trends:

#1 – Include a leadership/personal brand statement.

Begin to build a vibrant message highlighting your vitality, leadership strengths and unique value proposition by answering questions like these: 

• What talents and characteristics do you possess that represent the best in your practice? 

• How did you achieve the career successes that most benefited your firms/companies? What specific actions did you take? 

• What critical contributions did you make to past firms/companies that wouldn’t have happened if you weren’t there? You will further support your brand statement if you can quantify your actions and contributions. Acceptable quantifiers are accomplishments measured with numbers, time or dollars.

#2 – Format your resume for the reader.

More and more hiring decision-makers are reviewing resumes on mobile-type devices when they are on the go. Brief, concise, brand-focused statements of value surrounded by enough white space to make them stand out will have the greatest impact. Long, dense paragraphs make it hard for the reader to quickly access and digest important make-or-break information about you. 

If one has to work at finding your skills and differentiators, it is easier to move on to the next person. Chronological resumes often make the reader work at finding your transferable skills. Functional resumes are difficult as they often lack context around when and where a skill was honed. Make it easy for the reader to review your resume and want to know more using a hybrid format. 

Experienced lawyers, lead with your strongest transferable skill and not your academics. What are they looking for in a hire? What problem are they looking to solve? What strategies are they looking to implement? This is the information a reader is seeking in a resume review and the reason they will want to know more about you.

#3 – Keep your resume to two pages.

To accommodate the need for brevity, pare down and consolidate all your great achievements and qualifications into a quickly readable communication. Provide deeper slices of success “stories” in collateral one-to-two-page documents – representative transactions, leadership initiatives, achievement summary, career biography, reference dossier, etc. These companion documents can be crafted to stand alone and to support your resume’s first impression.

#4 – Use the top of your resume’s first page to your best advantage. 

Since the top of your resume is the first, and possibly the only section that will be read, place your most important information here. It’s okay to move up to the forefront information normally found further down within the professional experience section – especially if it represents the best you have to offer. If you immediately capture your readers’ attention with vivid illustrations of your promise of value, employers will be more likely to read the entire document.

#5 – Highlight your key areas of expertise once. 

Instead of taking up precious space repeating obvious lists of responsibilities for each position you’ve held, consolidate them in the top part of the first page. For best impact, position them in nicely formatted columns or a shaded graphic box. Tailor your list of responsibilities to a position by listing the skills sought in the position first. 

#6 – Use Keywords. 

Use the same keywords as in the position description. If you are submitting a resume online, often the recruiting systems will search using keywords. This is also true if an internal recruiter is doing an initial resume screen; if the recruiter is not familiar with a legal practice, the review often consists of a keyword scan. 

Hiring partners and professionals want a more technical and specific description of your career than your bio provides—they want to identify attributes, gaps in your employment and your technical expertise. A strong resume is clear, concise and tailored to a specific position. Keep your resume updated and relevant so you will be prepared to take full advantage of an opportunity when it arises. 

Interviewing Top Talent

In today’s market, a successful lawyer knows there are many employment options available. A thriving legal market has made the hiring process increasingly competitive, as organizations vie for the strongest candidates. As a result, talented lawyers are often in the enviable position of being able to choose between several offers. 

Numerous books, articles and training materials have been written to advise lawyers on how to successfully interview for a job. However, the role of the interviewer is just as important to the success of the interview process. In fact, the more prepared an interviewer is, the more likely it is that an organization can hire the best and brightest talent.

The Goals of the Interviewer

Gather enough information to properly evaluate the technical and interpersonal skills of the candidate to determine if he or she will be able to perform successfully in their position. 

Effectively promote the organization in order to attract the best possible candidate for the position. The interviewer’s role in best presenting his or her organization to strong candidates is particularly crucial. 

Based on the experiences of Talon and feedback we receive from the candidates we represent, here are some pointers that we hope can help your organization when interviewing experienced lawyers.

Prior to the Interview

Establish an interview team. The team should consist of key stakeholders involved in the success or failure of the position. One person should be selected as the champion for the candidate – the person who is there to ask and answer questions for the candidate throughout the interview process. It is advantageous to select individuals who have both the time and the desire to conduct an interview, as well as the ability to accurately and enthusiastically present the organization’s true culture and differentiators.

Set the Interviewers up for Success

Provide interviewers with a description of the position and the qualities you are seeking in a hire. In order to choose the best candidate for the job, the interviewer needs to have a clear definition of the position the organization is seeking to fill. This includes information on the technical skill being sought as well as the interpersonal skills and be- havior traits being sought. This information may seem obvious and yet when people are busy they may not have the position top of mind when going into a conversation. So, make it easy for your interviewer and equip them for success. 

Provide interviewers with detailed information on the candidate. This may include resumes, social media bios, cover letters, writing samples and references. Interviewers should have access to and review as much information about the candidate as possible prior to the interview. This background information is very useful to interviewers as it can provide topics for discussion during the interview. 

Let the interviewers know what their role is in the interview process. Let them know if there are specific questions you want them to ask; if there are particular skills and traits they are watching for in the candidate’s responses or if there is specific information you want them to convey to the candidate.

During the Interview

Most attorneys and executives are not interviewing experts and could benefit from receiving some general guidelines on how to conduct interviews. Specifically, they should be encouraged to: 

Build a rapport with the candidate. At the same time that the lawyer is being evaluated, he or she is also evaluating the organization, its atmosphere and its people. A candidate who is at ease in an interview is much more likely to speak freely and share information that will enhance the information gathering process. 

Ask open-ended questions. Open-ended questions – typically questions that begin with why, how or what – are designed to allow the candidate to express themselves more fully, and enable the interviewer to gather more information on the candidate. The more interviewers can ask open-ended questions pertaining to the candidate’s specific background and achievements, the more the candidate will see a genuine interest by the interviewer and organization. 

Listen. If the interviewer speaks for 25 of the 30 minutes of the allotted interview period rather than spending a substantial amount of time listening, the candidate will likely come away from the interview feeling concerned about the interviewer’s apparent lack of interest in the candidate. At the same time, the interviewer did not gather sufficient information about the candidate to make an informed judgment as to whether the candidate would be the best fit for the job. While some sharing of information by the interviewer is needed in order to promote the firm, ideally the parties will engage in a back-and-forth discussion – allowing both parties the opportunity to speak and exchange information.

After the Interview

Gather comments from the interviewers as soon as possible. Interviewers should write out their notes and comments about a candidate as soon as the interview is completed in order to memorialize their thoughts in the most accurate manner. 

Follow up with strong candidates in a timely fashion. Momentum can be favorable to an organization and it is common for individuals to perceive any delay on the part of an organization as a lack of interest. It can be challenging for firms to ensure that lawyer interviews are accomplished as effectively as possible. Nevertheless, there are some steps that an organization can take to help ensure the success of the interview process. An organization’s ability to accomplish a prepared interview can be the difference between an informed hiring decision and a costly mistake. 

Recruiting Top Talent and Practice Group Leadership

Legendary San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich is the longest-serving coach in the NBA. Under his leadership, the Spurs have won five national titles, and hold the record for the longest streak of consecutive winning seasons in NBA history. Coach Pop’s leadership, and his team-oriented approach to basketball, is the secret to the Spurs’ success. 

Thanks to having the right leader, the Spurs organization has consistently demonstrated strong management, a clear vision, and a winning record.  Good players know that the Spurs are able to foster both team and individual success. Success breeds success, water seeks its own level, birds of a feather flock together. Are law firms subject to the same phenomena?  Do lawyers seek the best team?  

With global firms getting larger and opening more regional offices around the country, an ever increasing number of niche boutiques with successful lawyers who want a different lifestyle, as well as all the traditional mid-sized firms, top talent is in demand.  But top legal talent (associates and partners) are free agents. They get to choose where they want to practice. Like athletes, they want to join a team with successful players, good management and strong leadership. Importantly, this includes within practice groups.  Strong leadership at the practice group level is a key differentiator for a law firm’s continued success. Because law firms compete primarily at the practice group level and outstanding law firm performance is driven by outstanding practice group performance, it is a business imperative for firms to improve the performance of their group leaders if they want to attract top talent.

Three Steps to More Effective Practice Group Leadership

  1.  Get the Right People in the Leadership Seats 

Gregg Popovich does not start the game with second-string players.  Logically, this is obviously not a winning strategy. Yet, historically, too many firms select or appoint practice group leaders for the wrong reasons, namely: 

  • Seniority or end of career   
  • Book of business/rainmaker   
  • Not enough to do/underperforming   
  • Ego need  

Wrong leadership won’t generate the right results. Practice group leaders should be selected based on ability to do the job. Put your best leaders in the practice group leader role.  

Examples of Right Criteria for Practice Group Leader Selection

  • Enthusiasm and vision
  • “Gets things done” – makes decisions
  • Leadership/management skills 
  • Gets along with people – likable
  • Excellent lawyer – technically skilled
  • Delegation skills – makes use of, and advances, all players’ skills 
  • Communication skills – calls the plays

The critical role of the practice group leader is to provide active and rigorous leadership of the group, helping it to achieve a higher level of competitiveness and market position or presence. 

  1.  Provide Continued Coaching 

Both All Star athletes and All Star lawyers need ongoing coaching.  Once you identify your practice group leaders, support them. Give them the training and the tools necessary to continually improve their game and the team’s game. Most practice group leaders have never received formal management training, have never operated a business, and have not read a leadership book.  Law school trained them to be lawyers, not practice group leaders. There is no reasonable expectation that they should walk into the job knowing how to do it. You must equip them to be successful. Examples include:

  • Regular group training on planning and implementation, business development, pricing and profitability strategies, evaluating associates, and motivating underproductive partners
  • Individual coaching to assess and improve strengths, weaknesses, and leadership styles
  • Regular meetings of firm practice group leaders to share experiences, best practices and seek advice

If you want practice groups to improve, you must take time away from billable hours to invest in developing the leadership capability of your leaders. Firms with the most effective practice group leadership invest the time and money necessary for continuous leadership improvement.

  1.  Expect Real Accountability

In a basketball game, statistics are kept both on the team and the individual. In this way, the players, the coaches, the fans all know who is performing well, and who is not. This information can be used to improve individual and team performance. Similarly, to get optimal performance from your practice leaders, firm management must communicate clear performance expectations and put accountability mechanisms in place.  Practice leaders must understand that their performance, and their team’s performance, will be evaluated, and how it will be evaluated. Firms must provide a clear job description with priorities indicated and regular performance reviews. Reviews can be periodic check-ins with the Managing Partner, Executive Committee, or Board to discuss progress against plan, resource needs, business development targets, recruiting needs, etc. The goals of these meetings should be:

  • To make sure progress is being made
  • To discuss resources needed to support the group’s efforts
  • To encourage (not punish) the group leader

The approach should always be, “How can we help you be more successful?” By fostering a spirit of collaboration and excellence – not by reprimanding – firms can empower their practice group leaders to raise the bar for their team’s performance. 


In free agency, the best players seek successful teams. Successful teams then put their best players in key positions and give them the tools and coaching necessary for further success. The same holds true in the legal field – the best are attracted to the best. Practice group leadership can help attract the best legal talent. If your firm follows these three steps (pick good people, provide continuous coaching, and ongoing accountability) the result will be more competitive, higher producing practice groups that attract more top legal talent to your firm.